Chicken Ducks Homesteading Rural Life

A Big Fat Mistake

I was debating if there were any good reasons to have a rooster. I was furious and heartbroken at the same time. I had made a horrible mistake that wound up costing the lives of many precious chickens on my farm.

reasons to have a rooster

I make mistakes. A lot of them. Sometimes I wear a brown belt with black shoes and don’t even notice.

Last week I went to a dentist appointment and didn’t notice I had duck poo smeared on my boots until I propped them up on the end of the long, vinyl dental chair. Truth.

Occasionally I stop at the grocery store for milk and drive home with 5 bags of groceries only to realize I forgot the milk. Since said store is 18 miles from our out-in-the-country homestead, everyone feels the brunt of that mistake for a few days. Scout, our holstein, is bred but not due to calf for many months, so no fresh milk on the farm yet…

reasons to have a rooster

My mistakes on the farm also turn out to be more costly than a fashion faux pas or a forgetful trip to the store. Egg, meat, and milk production can be affected dramatically. Plants can suffer beetle infestation and delicious vegetables or fruit never make it to the table. But last week, animals died. Because of my mistake. I’ve felt sick over it, and I wanted to  write about it hoping I can help others avoid making the same mistake I did.

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I thought we were doing everything right with our now 8-week-old chicks that we incubated this spring. This is our second year of incubating and assimilating chicks into our flock. (Read this post to find out 10 Foul Facts I learned from my chicken the first week we were brand-new chicken owners.) We kept them under a brooding light until they were old enough to venture outside for brief intervals, always keeping them corralled under our watchful eyes. Then we’d gather them back in their box and situate them once again under their warm light.

reasons to have a rooster

We introduced them safely to the other adult chickens, placing them in a large pen in the midst of where the chicken were free ranging. After days of doing that, we carried their pen into the coop and let them sleep there for many nights, behind the safe wire cage.

My Rooster Mistake

Then we set them free around the coop for just a brief time for many evenings in a row, knowing all the chickens would soon be coming in to roost for the night. They would file right by and around the new chicks and right up to their roosting spots. This allowed the older hens to get “acquainted” with the young ones at a time that they had no interest in harming them.

reasons to have a rooster

reasons to have a rooster

I knew drakes sometimes try to mate with hens, so I kept a close eye on how the male duck interacted with the chicks. He kept to himself, with his 3 ducks, and showed no interest in the chicks at all.

reasons to have a rooster

But I had no idea that my rooster could be a threat to the well-being of my sweet new chickens.

So I was clueless when I stepped in the coop one morning last week and saw my favorite young hen dead in the corner. My first thought was that a predator had entered in the night, but I realized that made no sense since all the others were fine, but then I noticed they weren’t fine at all. Six of my eight chicks were acting painfully lethargic, barely lifting their heads and not hoping outside when I shooed them to do so. They let me pick them up without any resistance and felt almost limp in my hands.

Before I even had time to run to the computer and research what causes such odd behavior I realized that Mr. Big Fat–my rooster who was named by my daughters, in honor of his inflated self-image, not his actual size–was the source of the problem.

reasons to have a rooster

Big Fat grabbed the neck of one of the two surviving young girls and jumped on her to mate before I could stop him.

If you haven’t seen a rooster doing his manly business, you may not know why this would be a problem. I’d seen it hundreds of times–truly walking around the homestead with free-ranging chicken and ducks can get kinda “R”-rated sometimes. So I was immediately mad when I saw the full-size male mount the little, fragile hen who was half his size. His beak sank into her little neck, holding her in place while he hopped on her back and dug his sharp spurs into her, holding on viciously while balancing his cloaca, trying to meet with hers. (“Cloaca” is the official name for both the roosters’ and the hens’ “vents.” Semen exits a rooster’s cloaca and enters a hen’s cloaca to fertilize the eggs.) The vicious balancing act was futile because she was way too small for his cloaca to ever be able to meet with hers.

If that was a little more than you cared to know, sorry, but it’s safe to keep reading. No more chicken anatomy will be mentioned in this post. Promise. If, on the other hand, you’d like to know more about the birds and the bees, chicken style, hop over to this post on the Frugal chicken. If you want to understand the fertilization process of an egg, I think this post from Natural Chicken Keeping is a great resource.

After I witnessed Big Fat carelessly, and pointlessly, hurting her, my pretty little hen seemed okay at first. But his savage act caused terminal internal damage. Within minutes, she looked lethargic like the others had that I had just left in the coop. She was spitting up; then she laid down, convulsed a little, and died by my side within 10 minutes of Big Fat’s pathetic, meaningless act.

The others all died as well, except for one that had eluded the rooster’s lousy attempt at charm. I scooped her up and quarantined her to safety. In a short while I noticed the Roo heading for one of the four youngest chicks on our farm, the babies who hatched by a broody hen a few weeks after our incubated chicks.

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In the first 3 or 4 weeks of their life, the momma hen (“Missy”) kept her chicks right by her side, even clucking to them, directing each one to climb in close under her wings if she perceived possible danger nearby.

reasons to have a rooster

But the last few weeks, they’d grown (doubled in size since this picture) and she’d given them complete independence. So Missy wasn’t around when Mr. Big Fat started sauntering over to one of the little ones. Thankfully, I was. And they too are tucked away safely now.

I didn’t even consider locking up Big Fat instead, because he’s needed around the homestead. As angry as I was with him, there are truly important reasons to have a rooster. in fact, we always have a rooster around for two reasons. The first is unnecessary now until next spring… fertilization of the eggs; we incubate new chicks every spring. The other reason though is a daily need that is also rather ironic, given the problem we’re having with Big Fat… protection of the hens. Even though he doesn’t seem to have any qualms about killing them himself with his irrational, insatiable sex drive, he’s crazy protective of them against natural predators. Since they free-range around our very rural property, his aggressive, protective nature has saved their lives many times. We’ve witnessed him puff up and make crazy angry calls to safeguard his women from chicken hawks that nest in our woods. I’m sure he’s also helped them avoid consumption by fox, raccoon, and maybe even coyote. He also does a great job of directing their activity and keeping them in generally “safe” areas, not letting them venture too far from the coop. In the two years we’ve owned free-ranging chicken, we’ve only lost one hen to a predator. And that was one day that the rooster was penned up and his ladies were roaming without him. So, yes, there are definitely many good reasons to have a rooster.

I’ve talked with many other homesteaders–locally and on-line– in the last week about my problem. (btw, if you have homesteading questions, in my experience the facebook group “HOMESTEADING”–all caps– is an invaluable resource of hundreds of thousands of people who know a lot about the mistakes and joys of this way of life.) I’ve come to the conclusion that typically 8 weeks is a safe time to assimilate new chicks with older flocks and typically roosters are, well, wiser sexually than good ole Mr. Big Fat. So I’m not giving up on roosters, just maybe Big Fat.

In my numerous discussions I’ve held with other homesteaders this past week about rooster rituals, I’ve learned that the two roosters we’ve owned over the past two years were both atypical roosters. Our first was extremely aggressive toward people, including young children. He wasn’t around long. Our second rooster, Mr. Big Fat, while he is very friendly towards people, is not the suave Don Juan that most roosters are. You see, Big Fat runs right on up to his hens and attacks them from behind, having his pleasure whenever he wants. Most roosters are mush smoother, kinder “courters” of their hens. A rooster typically does a dance for his lady and then only has his way with her if she is in agreement and bows down for him, welcoming him to hop on her back. A hen who was too young would ignore his dance, if indeed he even attempted to woo her.

I’m thankful we do have one young rooster who we’re hoping will take on his responsibilities in a wiser, kinder way than Mr. Big Fat, and then we’ll decide what Big Fat’s fate is. For now, our young hens are safe, separated from the rooster.

And I’ve learned–the hard way–an important secret to keeping my young chicks safe: A homesteader needs to understand each rooster’s temperament before introducing him to young hens.

But I’m certain I’ll still forget the milk and mismatch my belt and shoes every now and then.

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But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. II Corinthians 12:9


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reasons to have a rooster

reasons to have a rooster

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28 Comment

  1. Wow, I’ve had chickens for many years now, and have never heard of that happening before. Yikes! Thank you for sharing. I know it’s painful to put this stuff out there sometimes, but so important that we all get to learn from each other and reassure ourselves that we’re all human

    1. I have to admit, it did help me forgive myself for letting this happen under my watch when so many homesteaders said the same thing you’re saying… so many who owned chicken for decades and never owned a rooster who would have done this. But now I’ve learned, and hopefully through this post, I can help a few other newbie homesteaders learn a little too. Thanks, Carrissa.

  2. Thank you for sharing. I’m so sorry about your terrible experience. I’m new to chicken keeping. Much to my surprise, one of the hens we bought as a chick in the spring started sitting on eggs and hatched her own chick last week. I’m keeping her safely away from the other chickens while her baby is so tiny. Thanks to your post, I will be very careful about when I let the other chickens interact with her baby. We have 3 roosters (one looks just like Mr. Big Fat). Two of them do the dance for their ladies, but one does not. I don’t think I can trust those guys.

    1. I’m so glad you happened upon my post too, janna! That sweet baby chick is probably ADORABLE and I hope this info keeps it safe, especially from that Roo who knows nothing about politely courting a girl. 😉 If you get a chance, visit my fb page and share a pic of your baby chick… I adore the sweet little fluffy things and it’s the absolute sweetest thing on a farm to watch the momma hen keep her babies under her wings.

  3. I’m so glad I stumbled on this post! I think, I too, have an abnormal rooster! He is very aggressive with my hens… none of them have feathers on their backs due to his aggressive mating. He is also very very aggressive to people. I’ve considered making roo stew with him but I’m concerned about who will protect my girls if he’s not around. After reading your post and reading about normal rooster mating behavior I think I might need to get a new rooster! Thanks for the information!

    1. It’s a hard balance; keeping roosters for protection of the hens yet not letting them harm the hens themselves… Our younger roosters are just now getting mature enough to take over as the head rooster, so we’re trying to decide which one to keep, trying to gauge which one will be the kindest to the ladies yet bold enough to protect them. Thankfully, none of our current roosters are ever aggressive towards people. That simply would not be tolerated around here. But, just fyi, it’s not at all uncommon for hens to loose back feathers from the mating process. I’m pretty sure roosters always have “favorites,” and those poor hens are often missing feathers, but do make sure you have enough hens per rooster, that helps a lot with that problem. (And I’m glad you stumbled upon my post too. 🙂 )

  4. So far I have never seen our Rooster attempting to mate with a young chick. But a great thing to keep an eye on because we tend to replace our Rooster every year. This last year we had a Rooster who was very aggressive when he was mating. He was the inferior male and had a difficult time mating before the dominant rooster would come and chase him away. So the inferior rooster would forget about the dance and just get it done as quick as he could, which meant he was a lot rougher with the hens.

    1. That’s a very interesting thought that inferior males will forego the dance and be rougher on the hens. That wasn’t the problem with Mr. Big Fat, since he had always been the only male since birth, but a good thing for me to consider now as we are in the midst of deciding which of our young roosters we will keep. Thanks Miranda!

  5. Thank you for sharing the simple honest, I have a roster who started out like your Big Fat and one of my older hens took in on herself to correct him. It was so funny watching her stalk him and pouncing when he tried to take unwelcome libertys 🙂 Now I’m realizing how lucky I was. When I chatted about it on another page to see if this is normal and because it was quite a comedy to see, I was made to feel it was wrong to bring up :/ but I’m new to all this and often surprised by these fantastic animals. Thank you so much for your openness, I will definitely be more careful in the future.

    1. I’m so thankful that my mistakes were at least not wasted, Julie, and I am helping others who now know to watch for this problem. I still, many months later, really miss my beautiful young hens–and to think they’d be about ready to provide us with wonderful gifts of daily eggs. But you are welcome; and thank YOU for letting me know that my willingness to share my heart-breaking failures is helping others. 🙂

      1. I feel your loss, and I should have said. Many of our plants are named after our sweet girls that didn’t make it 🙁 I put them under plants when I can. 🐓💕 I’m sorry

  6. I never knew animals misbehave I always thought roosters and other male animals and the like wouldn’t be aroused (I am not sure if it’s the correct word to say) by little ones…that is totally new to me and thank God I knew about this earlier as for now I am preparing my poultry project. cheers!!

  7. I had a rooster who had the same issues. He scalped two of my young hens, before I realized what was going on. When I put the young hens in the yard in a cage to separate them, he tried to pull them through the cage!!! He also did not dance for the hens, and pulled the skin off of a couple of my adult hens. So, into the stew pot he went. I learned that courting and dancing before mating are things that often are neglected when selecting breeding stock, to the point that some people even make these aprons for the hens so they can protect their feathers. I will NEVER keep a rooster that traumatizes the hens!!! One of the number one jobs of any one who keeps animals is to keep stress to a minimum. My girls work hard for me and the least I can do for them is to make sure that they have a gentleman for a rooster! !!

  8. Not allowed to have roosters in my city, but before I got rid of mine, he was absolutely fascinated by my banty hen, to the point she would hide between two big hens or run to me for protection.

    1. It’s amazing isn’t it how much personality both the roosters and the hens really do have? I have a few hens who stand up to and deny the roosters, to the point that I’m pretty sure their eggs must be infertile. And then I too have timid hens who continually submit without a fight or who stay away from the roo and run for protection if he gets near them. But I’m sorry you aren’t permitted to have roosters in your city. Even after all the trouble that Big Fat gave me, I would sincerely miss having a rooster around.

  9. I learned this the hard way as well this year, though what is weird is they where all the same age and raised together. My hens where dieing, I thought to a predator, and I had two roosters. I figured it out when i went out one day and watched them. One roo was gentle, dance etc. The other would down right run up and rape, injuring or killing the hen. He was culled. (This was a Delaware)
    I have also had one very aggressive to humans but very good to his hens.(RIR/Americana mix) I kept him around only for that reason. His hens where never killed by anything and him and I eventually had an understanding. But strangers, mail man, UPS guy…… No. He was a better guard than the dogs. A shovel was left for the UPS guy. Sunny had a great life. Died of old age I think. He lived 8yrs.

  10. I’m glad that I was able to read your post. I stumbled upon it just now and was interested in how you raised your chicks. I only have 3 hens out of 12 and 1 mean un named rooster left After reading your account I think maybe he killed the other hens and. I have been trying to raise my chickens from my childhood memories. That was around 60 years ago.

    1. I’m sorry to hear about your mean rooster, Marie. Watch him closely for many days, and you will know if he’s being too rough to the hens. It’s always quite easy to find a new rooster, and most of them are “gentlemen,” so if he is being aggressive and killing your hens, I’d get rid of him in a heartbeat and get a new rooster who guards and takes care of them instead of harming the ladies. Also, if you don’t let them free-range and aren’t in need of fertilized eggs, you don’t need a rooster at all… just something to think about.

  11. My Mother kept chickens for all of her life and I do not remember her ever saying one of her roosters did this thing that your roster did. I also remember her putting many a rooster in the cook pot because he was mean to people. My Mom kept only one rooster for her hens and two in waiting (meaning they were not grown roosters). She did not ever hatch eggs her self only the hens did so that the chicks would have protection. She did not keep her hens and chicks separate from the other chickens. When the chicks hatched she sexed them and the roosters in the hatch would be allowed to grow up and then she killed them and put them in the freezer while they were still young. She had a very large chicken yard and a medium roostering house with six egg boxes. I suspect that she could see which one would do such a thing and they were killed and put in the freezer. Mom knew when a hen was ready to set by her clucking sound and she would put eggs in a nest for her and she would set the eggs off. This was my Mom’s set up and it seemed to work very well for her … hope this will help you with your chickens.

    1. Wonderful advice. Your mom was quite the “chicken lady.” 🙂 Interesting that she knew by their cluck when hens wanted to set on a nest of eggs. We will notice a hen simply doing it–sitting on her egg most of the day–and we will then add 4 or 5 more eggs to her own. I do greatly prefer a broody hen over an incubator. But we only find her motherly protection lasts for roughly a month, then she starts leaving the babies, now much bigger of course, to fend for themselves, and she goes and spends her time with her peer hens and goes back to roosting with them as well.

  12. So sorry for the loss of your babies! Thank you for sharing! I am glad to know what could happen. It’s heartbreaking when we lose them. Praying you got new ones and didn’t give up. I have 14 babies right now. I will have to figure something out when they’re able to free range.

  13. Thank you so much for sharing this. We are currently rooster-less as a predator got ours, but we’ll hopefully be getting another soon, and we’ve got young chicks that may be assimilated at some point. Good to know. Sorry you had to go through that.
    I had to laugh at the duck poo on your boot at the dentist…I have made similar mistakes, though not that one in particular 🙂

    1. Thanks for letting me know, Danielle, that this post is helpful for you. The duck poo situation, sadly, is a common occurrence at many places beyond the dentist. 🙂

  14. Thank you so much for sharing this difficult experience I don’t know what I would have done if I were in your shoes! I am new to chickens and I have quite a bit to learn. This is not something that I would have expected. We didn’t know sexes of our chicks because we adopted them from a hatching at my daughters school. It looks like we have two ladies and two roosters, which is hard because my daughter is quite attached to all of them. One of the hens is a Bantam and now I am worried about the Barred Rock rooster and this sweet girl. I think our only choice is to split the coop or re-home the Barred Rock. It will be difficult to re-home because he is such a love…so far.

  15. We have chickens also and 2 roosters ….. and when one becomes broody we usually let her sit (depending on the weather/time of year) and she will hatch her chicks and we keep them separate for quite a while …..mum normally shows interest in leaving the “maternity area” after maybe 6 weeks and we let her back with the flock. At this stage we always keep the babies separate right up till they are around 18 -20 weeks … our roosters don’t seem to be interested in them until they are actually laying anyway but I just didn’t want to take that risk. Thank you for sharing ….you have reinforced what we thought …. sometimes it is harder incorporating the new ones with the old ones …but they soon sort it out and at least the young ones are able to stick up for themselves by that age. Good luck 😁

  16. I’m so sorry you lost your young hens that way. Much like men (and women too) roosters come in all different kinds of temperaments and personalities…or should that be chickenalities in this case?

    Thank you for sharing the story. I’ll know now to keep a close eye on the roosters when introducing younger birds to the flock. That is, when I get the chance to get back out in the country and have chickens again. Our village has a pet limit, and I don’t think I could get a waiver for therapy chickens. 🙂

    1. Thanks for stopping by, Molly. I LOVE the idea of chicken therapy… my daughter has a few friends at college who have doctor’s permission to bring emotional therapy critters to live with them in their dorm rooms. I wonder if she could convince the powers-that-be that there is a legit thing called “chicken therapy?” 🙂

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